Peripheral neuropathy: Classification, causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, prevention and natural remedies

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What is peripheral neuropathy?

The nerves outside the brain and spinal cord are known as peripheral nerves. Peripheral neuropathy encompasses a range of medical conditions in which the peripheral nerves are damaged.

Peripheral neuropathy is fairly common. Frequency varies with the cause of the condition. Up to 50 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes have a neuropathy depending on the criteria used for diagnosis.

Classification of peripheral neuropathy

According to experts, there are hundreds of peripheral neuropathies. Each has its own symptoms, prognosis and pattern of development. Symptoms and impaired function depend on the type of nerve (sensory, motor and autonomic) that is damaged.

Sensory nerve transmits information about sensory experiences. Motor nerve control movements of muscles under conscious control. Autonomic nerve regulates biological activities that human beings do not control consciously (like breathing and digesting food).

Causes of peripheral neuropathy

There are many causes of peripheral neuropathy. Leprosy is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy. Mycobacterium leprae, a bacterium, causes leprosy. This bacterium destroys the peripheral nerves of the affected person. As per WHO statistics, around 1.15 million people are victims of leprosy all over the world.

Alcohol abuse may cause peripheral neuropathy
Diabetes is another common cause of this condition. Peripheral neuropathy may also be caused by acrylamide poisoning and some inherited disorders (like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease).

Peripheral neuropathy may also be caused by herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles. Shingles is a painful, contagious rash that is caused by chickenpox virus varicella-zoster. 

Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to peripheral neuropathy. Vitamin B12 plays a major role in formation and maintenance of the myelin membrane. Deficiency in this vitamin impacts myelin’s ability to repair itself negatively. In the long term, this may lead to its destruction.

Peripheral neuropathy may be caused by physical injuries, malnutrition and alcohol abuse. Magnesium deficiency is one of the known causes of peripheral neuropathy. Many people affected by peripheral neuropathy are idiopathic (cause cannot be found).

Peripheral neuropathy risk factors

Peripheral neuropathy risk factors include exposure to toxins, B vitamins deficiency, diabetes, alcohol abuse, infections, infections (like Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr, shingles, AIDS and hepatitis C), autoimmune diseases, repetitive physical stress, liver disorder, kidney disorders and thyroid disorders.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are related to the type of affected nerve. If a sensory nerve is damage, common symptoms are tingling, numbness, tickling or pain. pain associated with peripheral neuropathy is very severe.

If a motor nerve is damaged, symptoms include extreme weakness of the affected area. Muscle shrinkage and lack of muscle tone is also common. If an autonomic nerve is damaged, symptoms usually include variation in blood pressure, lack of sweat, lack of tears, lack of saliva, constipation, urinary retention, impotence, respiratory problems, irregular heart beat and light headedness.

How to diagnose peripheral neuropathy?

Some clinical symptoms do indicate peripheral neuropathy; however, exact diagnosis usually involves a combination of medical tests and medical history. According to some experts, it is sometimes a process of exclusion.

Treatments for peripheral neuropathy

While dealing with peripheral neuropathy, doctors usually treat the underlying cause. By doing so, they further nerve damage is prevented and the process of recovery is expedited.

Some peripheral neuropathy cannot be cured. In these cases supportive care is provided. Long term monitoring is also necessary. If automatic nerve is damaged, it is very important to constantly monitor the functioning of the cardiovascular system.

Pain management is an integral part of peripheral neuropathy treatment, especially in cases where chronic pain is involved. It is important to avoid narcotics. Doctors usually prescribe carbamazepine, amitriptyline and capsaicin cream.

In some cases physicians may recommend exercise and physical therapy. This is known to improve the concerned function. In cases motor nerves are damaged, doctors recommend the use of supportive equipment.


In case of peripheral neuropathy, the outcome depends on the cause. In some cases it may be reversed. In some cases it may be incurable and even fatal. Fortunately in many cases, damaged nerve regenerates.

How to prevent peripheral neuropathy?

It is advisable to abstain from alcohol and tobacco. Avoid processed foods, sodas, sugar, junk foods, fast foods, foods loaded with pesticides and trans fats. Sweeteners, additives, MSG and aspartame in these foods damage the nervous system.

Peripheral neuropathy can be prevented to the extent which it causes can be prevented. For example, if you take to prevent diabetes, you will simultaneously prevent peripheral neuropathy that may be caused by diabetes.

It is a good idea to take vaccines against medical conditions (like polio) that can cause peripheral neuripathy. It is important to treat physical injuries without delay. Avoid exposure to neurotoxic agents. It is a good idea to go for a genetic screening, as it serves as an early warning for potential health issues.

Natural remedies for peripheral neuropathy

People affected by peripheral neuropathy should consume diet containing omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It is advisable to perform light exercises. They regulate blood sugar, slow nerve damage and promote healthy blood circulation. Avoid running or walking. It is a good idea to swim or use a stationary bike.

It is advisable to use herbs and supplements like magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and n-acetyl cysteine. Cayenne , when massaged into the skin, provides relief from peripheral neuropathic pain.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in more than 300 biochemical processes. Magnesium supplementation provides relief from peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is an excellent nerve tonic. It sooths the entire nervous system. It is used to treat peripheral neuropathy in many parts of the world very effectively.

Evening primrose oil prevents nerve damage. Colloidal silver promotes nerve regeneration. Digestive enzymes remove plaque and restore circulation to extremities. They are used worldwide.

Castor oil packs provide relief from peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Apply moist castor oil pack by soaking a cotton cloth in castor oil and placing on the affected area. You may also use water-soluble castor oil gels.

Biofeedback reduces stress and enables you to cope with the pains associated with peripheral neuropathy. Manjishtha has a calming effect on the nervous system. Massage, acupuncture, acupressure and relaxation therapy are found to be effective against many symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. However it is advisable to check with your physician before using any of the above-mentioned alternative remedies.

Peripheral neuropathy affects people in every walk of life. Awareness is the key to prevent or to deal with peripheral neuropathy.